Country: United States
Date: May 2006
(For a real historian or canal engineer familiar
with American Canals and Waterways) Mr. Brian Girard Bardy of the
Flagg Creek Historical Society refers to the Illinois and
Michigan Canal as "The Last Great American Canal"; is this
What about the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the
Illinois Waterway and the Illinois and Mississippi Canal
(Hennepin Canal) etc. among the myriads of later American canals
built after 1848 on into the 20th Century?
What would be the actual "Last Great American Canal"?
First, let me say I am NOT a "real historian or canal engineer," but
I am pretty familiar with the I&M Canal through work at the Chicago
Portage Site in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The
question is really one of interpretation. There was an era in the
first half of the 19th century in which canals were most important
in moving people and heavy goods, and played a dominant role in the
development of the country's economy. That era pretty much ended
with the coming of railroads, and the I & M was the last canal built
during that phase.
The I & M opened the same year as the first
railroad west from Chicago, and continued to be a factor by
providing alternative, competitive transport. After railroads came,
canals carried almost no passengers. In respect to passenger travel,
Mr. Bardy's comment is pretty accurate, in over all economic
importance, not so much so.
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Update: June 2012